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Feature Articles: Health


Illustration of human mind as system of cogs and gearsKeeping your memory sharp

Melissa Bess, former Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Camden County, University of Missouri Extension


Research has been growing in the areas of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in the last 10 to 15 years. Recent research indicates that Alzheimer’s may have some of the same risk factors as heart disease. The following is a list of recommendations for keeping your brain sharp. However, this is newer research so the extent of the benefits on your brain continues to be studied, but it is known that these tips can help lower your risk for some chronic diseases and provide numerous benefits to your overall health.


  • Eat 2-3 servings of fatty fish weekly. The omega 3’s in fish are heart healthy, and there is also some evidence that they can help protect the brain. Fatty fish include salmon, herring, sardines and albacore tuna. Leaner fish like cod or haddock have some omega 3’s, but not as much. If you don’t eat fish, talk with your physician about taking fish oil capsules.
  • Limit saturated fats and trans fats. These two fats are bad for our heart, but could also be harmful to the brain. Several research studies have documented cognitive decline at a faster rate and a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease in those who ate more saturated and trans fats.
  • Eat leafy greens. Romaine lettuce, spinach and kale are vegetables that have many health benefits. They contain vitamins and minerals, are low in calories, and have no fat. They also might help slow the rate of cognitive decline.
  • Include more vitamin E-rich foods. Vitamin E is an antioxidant, which protects our cells from damage and may also keep our brains sharp. The health benefits of Vitamin E on the brain is still a newer area of research and results are not conclusive yet, but it is known that eating foods with vitamin E provides many other health benefits. Foods with vitamin E include leafy greens, nuts, vegetable oils, fortified cereals and whole grains.
  • Keep your blood sugar in control. Higher levels of blood sugar can affect memory and cognitive functioning. Diabetes may harm blood vessels in the brain, but if kept under control, memory impairment can be reversed.
  • Keep your weight under control. Being overweight or obese can lead to diabetes, which affects brain functioning. New research is showing a possible link between overweight or obesity and dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Be physically active. Even a small amount of daily physical activity keeps you healthy and may help keep your brain functioning at a healthy level. The many benefits of physical activity are directly related to cognitive functioning.
  • Control blood pressure. High blood pressure can lead to many health problems, including increasing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
  • Engage in activities for the mind. Reading, playing games, writing letters, going to museums or anything else that uses brain activity can help keep your mind sharp. Continuing education also seems to help stimulate the mind. Just like our body needs a workout, our brain needs the same to keep it healthy.
  • Beat depression. Depression may be a risk factor for dementia. Treat depression properly or seek medical attention. This disease may also have an effect on cognitive decline. Proper treatment not only helps prevent dementia, but can also increase overall quality of life.


Remember, research is relatively new in the area of brain functioning and cognitive decline. Even if the recommendations above aren’t conclusive, they still help promote a healthy lifestyle, keep our bodies young and help fight chronic diseases.


Staying sharp: How to avoid brain drain as you age. Nutrition Action Healthletter, Center for Science in the Public Interest, June 2007, 34(2).


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